Tom Ross: Where the snow lives in August
Never Summer Wilderness true to name
August 15, 2011
Steamboat Springs — I've always thought the Never Summer mountain range was tagged with one of the most romantic names in the Colorado Rockies. But I never took it as literally as I do now, after last weekend's hike into the southern edge of the Never Summer Wilderness Area.
No, that rain that fell on Steamboat on Sunday afternoon wasn't snow in the Never Summers. But we did encounter one of the biggest summer snowbanks I've seen this side of Oregon's Mount Hood. And to think I left my skis in car.
Never Summer is a relatively small wilderness area in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. It is tucked up against the west side of some dramatic peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park, including Mt. Stratus and Mt. Nimbus.
When you make the 2,400-foot climb to Blue Ridge on the edge of the wilderness and begin the long walk up the spine toward 12,300-foot Cascade Mountain, you'll emerge from the old spruce forest onto the tundra. You'll quickly realize you are looking down on the sailboats on Grand Lake to the southeast, with Long's Peak in the national park clearly visible beyond. But the real jaw-dropper comes when you pivot 180 degrees and realize you are looking directly across North Park to the snowy reaches below Mount Ethel in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.
Mount Ethel, of course, is the pointed summit that is visible from the top of the Storm Peak Express chairlift on a clear winter day.
I love it when I encounter a new vantage point in the high country that allows me to connect the dots in my mental geography of the northern Colorado Rockies.
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I decided before we set out that it would be folly to haul even my lightweight cross-country ski gear up the mountain. I regretted the decision later in the afternoon.
Blue Ridge is a high pass in the mountains where the prevailing winds apparently dump snow on the east side of the narrow ridge all winter long. The firm snowdrift that remains behind is very deep and very skiable.
We hiked to the land of Never Summer via the Lost Lake Trailhead, just south of Willow Creek Pass on Colorado Highway 125 between Walden and Granby. Driving south, look for a left-hand turn on Forest Service Road 107 leading to Forest Service Road 123.
The trailhead is about 100 minutes from Steamboat by car, with no need of a high-clearance vehicle. There are no formal campgrounds in the vicinity.
Since our hike we've learned that one can make a slightly longer drive to Grand Lake, via U.S. Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 34, for a shorter hike up the Bowen Gulch Trail.
But no matter which side you begin your hike from, it's Never Summer up there.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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